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Hello all,

I am not sure what to write about today, or how much to say. I am bored of writing how I am, which symptoms are bad and so on, though I know it serves a purpose for me in terms of tracking my symptoms and health, which is one of the reasons I do blog. I am bored with it though, and so it seems is my partner, understandably. We want to escape the never-ending discussions of how I am, which parts hurt and so on. But how? I honestly do not think it is possible.

I do not need to tell you readers who are also ill and living with other people the difficulties of being in any relationship when there is an unwanted entity (the illness) hovering around affecting everything we do, or more usually cannot do. Things are ok, and we are coping but I am just feeling a bit emotional at the start of this year.

As well as wanting me and more especially my partner to have a break from it all, I am deeply worried about a friend of mine who is in hospital. I have heard from her dad that she has had an emergency operation and is very unwell, but nothing for a few days and I cannot help but think about her and her start to 2011. She has not even been able to open her Christmas presents yet. She is on my mind a lot.

I think I am also just in recovery from going away at Christmas. I feel a sense of achievement and adventure at having gone away – I spent a few days with my partner’s family. It was good and I am very glad I went in many ways. I was made to feel really welcome and they tried really hard to accommodate my needs and it was nice to feel part of something but it was also pretty hard for me at times.

The main issues were the travel (which took 4 hours on the way there and 3 on the way back; even as a passenger that is really a lot for my poor brain to cope with. I find it very challenging neurologically to be in motion and to have such a lot of visual stimuli rushing past at the same time); the heating, which despite other people saying they felt cold was on really high and it was the hottest house I have been in for a long time (which obviously is really bad for me in terms of POTS as it means my blood pools more easily and less gets to my brain which makes me feel worse and have lower stamina and more neurological symptoms, like tolerance of noise…); and also the noise!

When there is noise my stamina is very limited and the combination of Xmas music on a loop and/or a tv turned up loud for some of the family who can no longer hear very well (and refuse a hearing aid) as well as the conversation of up to twelve people on top was at times hard to bear. Added to this was the noise of a house full of people when I was trying to rest, especially when a few drinks had been had, despite my ear plugs! People really did try so I am not blaming them, it’s just that normal festive behaviour and this illness do not mix. It is not like everyone should sit and shiver in several jumpers in silence just so that I can “do” Xmas!! It would not be fun for me or anyone else that way.

Overall it was a successful visit and I would take on the journey again when things would be quieter and hope that perhaps I could be able to leave the house when there next time to explore the city a little. It did feel strange to just be in the house all the time and not be able to situate it or explore; which seems ridiculous as I rarely go out to explore my own city, but when you go somewhere new I suppose you feel it more keenly that it is the normal thing to do. I know there were art galleries within a ten minute radius, and that hurt!

I have been feeling a bit stir-crazy actually and the trip away almost added to it for the reason given above. It gave me a sense of adventure if anything! I have not left the house much for a long time, other than for appointments, and the weather has been a big part of this. It has been just freezing with snow and ice everywhere – hardly wheelchair-friendly. I did go over to see a friend before Xmas and that was really nice, though it felt so surreal and I realised it was nearly a year since I had visited her home. She has had to visit me most of the time in the last year. Another reason is that my partner is just so busy and there is no-one else to take me out. I really find it hard to go anywhere without my wheelchair and that means being accompanied. I need to perhaps just take a taxi sometimes and sit somewhere interesting and comfortable for a while, but finding somewhere comfortable (in terms of chair, but also noise etc) is quite tricky.

Good things already planned for this year are a lecture about printmaking at a local university at the end of March. It is just an hour so I am going to give that a try if I can. Also we have booked tickets to see Iron and Wine in concert, which is also not for a while, but something to look forward to. Some of the most memorable and best things I did in 2011 were going to concerts, which has become easier now that I can sit in my wheelchair, so I hope to keep finding good people to see this year. It is great to go out with my partner and share such experiences with her. We don’t do enough fun things together.

It is my birthday this month and some time has been kept clear to do “something”. It is not yet clear what I will be up to doing, or what the options are but I am looking into it!

I hope to continue with my art immersion at home (see blog post on my creative blog) and finish the painting I am working on and move on to the other many creative things I want to work on. So many ideas, so little energy and ability! Never mind, art is a good distraction from illness. I also want to read more. I have got a Kindle for Xmas, though I had it early, and I am really loving it and how much easier it is for me to read with than a real book.

These are interviews I did (by email) with two friends with FM as part of my blog for ME/CFS/FM Awareness Day 2010. They are in their own words. To read the main post, click here.

Interview One – Maggie:

I’m a 54 year old woman, divorced with two grown up sons.

How long have you had FM? How does it affect you now, what are your main symptoms and has it changed over time?

I’ve had fibromyalgia for almost 12 years. Since coming to live in Spain 5 years ago my condition has been a lot less of a burden. Largely as a result of the climate –sun and warmth make an enormous difference, which in turn means I am able to walk and move about more easily on a regular consistent basis and am therefore less stiff. In addition the pace of my life here is much slower, the general rhythm of the day is more relaxed. I also live on the coast which means I don’t have to deal on a day to day basis with hilly terrain, and living in a small flat cuts out the need for using stairs many times in a day, and is also a more manageable space re housework, cleaning etc.

The symptoms are many and variable – ongoing pain in some part of my body – somedays, knees, and hands other times neck and shoulders, sometimes one side of the body another day the other. The worst is the sense of fatigue that comes on very suddenly, and unexpectedly, often a result of overdoing things or as a direct result of stress and anxiety – even re minor things eg if washing machine breaks my stress levels are completely out of proportion with the incident  and any anxiety affects my body and its capability profoundly. I am certainly not as ill as I was 5 years ago but that is because I have drastically changed my lifestyle – when I return to cold weather or stressful situations my symptoms are exacerbated. It’s also hard to know how much the symptoms have changed because over time living with pain – I have learned to shut out sensations of pain, if I didn’t do that my life would be miserable.

What was happening at the time you became ill? Do you have a theory about what caused it/triggered it for you?

The onset of illness was very sudden and acute. However I was overworking and caught a virus which caused inflammatory arthritis in all joints of my body – I was confined to bed for many months unable to walk, move etc the doctors told me that the fibromyalgia was a direct result of the continued acute pain suffered during the course of this illness . So in my opinion the overworking/ stressed lifestyle lowered my bodily resistance making me victim to a nasty virus – I agree with the doctors that the virus caused arthritis and fibromyalgia set in as my body was unable to deal with the ongoing pain.

What changes have you made to your life to accommodate it?

I have completely revolutionized all aspects of my life. I have had to change not only the things I do and the manner in which I do them but also my attitude to life. I have had to become much more selfish in relation to my life, and much more discerning re what  I do and when I do it – I live alone now as it is easier for me not having to cope with the practical and emotional demands of other people —-I now please myself and am answerable to no-one. I have to work hard at always retaining a positive attitude. I have had to recognize, come to terms with and accept the severe limitations that the condition brings but to be happy within those limitations.

Is there anything that has helped you to cope with it? (Either prescribed medication or something else).

Acupuncture, hydrotherapy, gentle regular non aerobic exercise eg walking cycling swimming. And plenty of rest. Counselling helped me enormously to come to terms with what I couldn’t change and the strength to change what I could. As for prescribed medication eg ant inflammatories, analgesics, sleeping medication – I personally now only resort to taking medication if it is an emergency as the long term toxic effects of ongoing analgesia are in my opinion counterproductive. When in pain I try everything from application of heat or cold, yoga, just lying and resting and waiting….

How do you understand it and how do you describe/explain it to others?

It’s a complex syndrome which affects the nervous system and pain control mechanism of the body, its also a metabolic disorder in that the muscles burn up ATP very fast hence creating the symptom of fatigue.

How closely do you think it is related to ME/CFS, if you are familiar with what that condition involves? What do you see as distinct/different?

I think there is a definite relation between these types of disorder not so much in the symptomology as in the cause.

What other diagnosis/conditions do you have alongside FM? Do you think they are related to each other?

I think I answered this re having low resistance  virus arthritis = ongoing pain = fibromyalgia develops as a result.

When and how were you diagnosed? Did you know what FM was before that? Did you have to fight to be diagnosed or was it straightforward? Did you match all the tender points? Do you think these are a good indicator of having FM?

 I was diagnosed more than a year after I became ill. I had never heard of the condition before. I think I was lucky that one day I had the fortune to be seen by a hospital doctor who knew about the condition – once the diagnosis was made – I could then understand what my body was going through. Yes I do match all the tender points – and yes I think they are evidently a good indicator of FM

Are there any good web sites/other resources that you would recommend to people wanting to know more about FM?

In the early stages of the illness I found the British Fibromyalgia web site very helpful and their printed information and leaflets were invaluable in helping family and friends  understand what you were going through. I would say find as much info as you can – learn to undersatand the mechanics of the illness and accept that life cannot continue being the same you have to change irrevocably and only you can determine whether that change is a positive one or a negative one.

Is there anything else you would like to say about life with FM?

You have it. There’s no cure. Learn to live with it. Do everything you can to be as comfortable and happy as you can whenever and as often as you can. Don’t let it defeat you psychologically and spiritually.

Interview Two – Jo:

How long have you had FM? How does it affect you now, what are your main symptoms and has it changed over time?

I think I’ve had FM for a very long time. Sometime in my twenties I realised that everywhere on my body hurt if I pressed it. In my late twenties I started to get muscular pain after small exertion. I was always at the doctor’s or the osteopath. But even earlier, in my teens I can remember being in agony after exercise and wondered why everyone else didn’t seem to be as affected. I put it down to not being very fit.

Now, my main symptoms are fatigue, muscular stiffness, joint stiffness and pain in the most used areas – across my shoulders and lower back. If I get into a good place with my energy levels and do too much I can be in a great deal of pain with my whole skeleton feeling like it is lit up. Thankfully that doesn’t happen too often.

What was happening at the time you became ill? Do you have a theory about what caused it/triggered it for you?

For me, stress seems to be the trigger. I have always been very stressed and have had emotional difficulties all my life. I store tension in my body and have problems releasing emotion.  If I have massage or other body therapies it can be upsetting for me as memories and emotion can be released that way.

What changes have you made to your life to accommodate it?

Well, the fibro on its own wasn’t too bad for functioning. I had to be careful about sitting at a computer for long periods of time, spent a lot of money on osteopaths and massage, tried to make sure I kept supple through swimming and pilates and so on. It was when the fatigue really kicked in that the problems started. I had to give up work. Everything changed.

Is there anything that has helped you to cope with it? (Either prescribed medication or something else).

I used to drink alcohol which is a great muscle relaxant, but that has its own problems. At one point I used to get strong, codeine based painkillers from the doctor, and developed a bit of a habit. Not a good way to carry on.  Once I had a diagnosis it became easier and I stopped self-medicating. Now I take low-dose amitriptyline and low dose SSRI antidepressant. The two together really help pain and sleep. Paracetamol is good for bad days and can help stop me building up into a pain crisis. Prevention is much better than cure and I’m much better when I do my Pilates stretches in the morning.  I also regularly do a body scan meditation for relaxation, and I rest three times a day for at least half an hour.

How do you understand it and how do you describe/explain it to others?

I don’t generally explain the pain. I’m more usually trying to explain my fatigue and walking difficulties as they are much more visible. Sometimes my partner asks me if I’m ok and I just mutter ‘in pain’. It’s so familiar to me that I accept it like breathing. It’s just part of me. I understand it as a holding on of tension, my body’s complaint against having to do the work of my faulty emotional processing.

How closely do you think it is related to ME/CFS, if you are familiar with what that condition involves? What do you see as distinct/different?

I think they are one and the same; all part of the same continuum. The FM is, for me, at the sharp end of the wedge. It belongs more to the earlier onset of my ME/CFS. The fatigue, or thick end of the wedge is where my body has been holding this tension for so long it is having to stop. I know when I’m improving because I get less fatigue and more pain.

What other diagnosis/conditions do you have alongside FM? Do you think they are related to each other?

Hmm, let’s see. Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Osteoarthritis, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, Anxiety, Generalised Anxiety Disorder.  I feel they all stem from the same cause which is extreme and repeated stress.

When and how were you diagnosed? Did you know what FM was before that? Did you have to fight to be diagnosed or was it straightforward? Did you match all the tender points? Do you think these are a good indicator of having FM?

I was just on the cusp of moving into the fatigue stage of my illness. I met someone who had just received a diagnosis of fibromyalgia and whose symptoms exactly matched my own. It was a further four years before I could get a GP to even entertain the idea I had FMS. A rheumatologist I saw did not ‘recognise the diagnosis’. After I moved to a new area I asked to be referred to a rheumy I knew was sympathetic. He wouldn’t see me because I had fibromyalgia and they could do nothing for me! I burst into tears in front of my new GP and tried to explain I had diagnosed myself and it was an official diagnosis I wanted. To cut the wait and frustration I paid to go and see the same guy who had refused to see me. Through that meeting I got my diagnosis of FMS/CFS and a referral to an ME clinic. He quickly checked my tender points and said I wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t till I left his office the pain kicked in from just having them pressed. I don’t know if they are a good indicator or not. Probably a better indicator is widespread, long-term pain with a normal rheumatology blood test.

Are there any good web sites/other resources that you would recommend to people wanting to know more about FM?

Actually, there is so much out there, so many different theories and protocols, forums and blogs, for anyone new to this I’d tell them to go with what suits them. This website on emotional processing produced by a team of researchers in Dorset, UK, is my touchstone although it’s not specifically about FMS. http://www.emotionalprocessing.org.uk/index.htm

A useful book is “Fibromyalgia and Muscle Pain” by Leon Chaitow

My feeling is that sustained emotional stress, especially in childhood, results in real physical symptoms and the breakdown of metabolic systems in the body. My experience of it is that some recovery, even total recovery, is possible.

Is there anything else you would like to say about life with FM?

It’s real, it hurts, it can be very disabling, not to mention frightening at times.

The last few weeks i have been gradually starting to think about Christmas and how to manage it, and as i have continued to feel not so good lately I was feeling a bit daunted by the whole thing. So I thought about ways around it and came up with this. I have sent it to everyone who may consider giving me something.

I am just posting this here as other people with ME may feel the same way about Christmas and seeing that i am doing this may help you think that there are alternatives that might not hurt everyone’s feelings… I have had two responses so far and both were entirely positive, so i still have one family member and one friend talking to me!! phew!

To all my lovely friends and family,

 As most of you are aware, shopping in shops is not something I can do, and last year I did all my Christmas shopping online. I did, however, find it was still a lot handle as I have to limit computer-time and I also find organisation and making decisions about what to get for people quite exhausting when my brain is not working so well. The hardest part though was receiving the deliveries, as I cannot stay out of bed all day nor can I jump up from bed and launch myself down the stairs without risking falling over or at least making myself feel very dizzy and faint. The memory of last year has made me question what to do this year as I have been going through a bad patch and just cannot face it. ***** says that no-one will mind if I just don’t get them anything, but I was not comfortable with this, mostly because when other people start giving me things I will feel so guilty, and it would feel like I have mislead you all: SO, my plan is to a) let you know early so that you have no expectations and hopefully will not have got me anything yet and b) to propose an alternative: 

I would like to propose that instead of giving gifts we just exchange cards. 

If anyone really wants to give me something (please do not feel obligated), I would really like a donation to MERUK (it can be done via my justgiving page (see link below), it is very safe and straightforward to use). This is a potentially very exciting time in the ME-world. A strong link to a retrovirus has been found in the US and the UK charities are keen to fund studies to replicate and expand this research to find out what this could mean in terms of the development of a diagnostic test, a vaccine and even possible treatments in the (hopefully not too distant) future. It would give me enormous hope to feel part of making that happen and would make me just as happy as getting an actual present, if not more so. More info for those who want it is in the links below.

 If you have a favourite charity, please let me know and I will happily make a donation instead of the present I would have bought for you. If you do not make any alternative suggestion then after Christmas I will make a donation to the ME charity using what I would have spent, so if you have another preference, don’t be shy!

 I hope this is ok with everyone, thanks for your understanding,

Ashy xx

 

My Justgiving page for ME Research UK is: http://www.justgiving.com/jfqashy/ To donate you just sign up for a justgiving account if you don’t have one already, then click to donate. It is easy and you can really boost your donation if you are a UK taxpayer by choosing gift aid. 

The Whittemore Peterson Institute in Nevada that made the HMRV discovery: http://www.wpinstitute.org/  (there are links to articles in the media about the discovery and also some good FAQs about ME in general and also about the retrovirus HMRV and what it could mean. 

ME Research UK: www.meresearch.org.uk (And their reaction to HMRV from their homepage: http://www.meresearch.org.uk/information/publications/xmrvfind.html)

I took this picture over a week ago (23rd August). I was spending time in the sunny back yard, trying to de-stress and relax. It worked a little bit. I squeezed and sniffed all my herbs (the lavendar given to me by Mr& RachelCreative, my rosemary, mints, two lemon geraniums (one is like sweet lemon sherberts, the other sharper, like lemongrass) and other geranium which has quite a strong geranium smell (even if they are all pelargoniums, strictly speaking!), and nibbled some parsely, so it was an aromatherapy session of sorts… all the DLA stuff was going through my mind, around and around…

My letter requesting the appeal has been sent today, so hopefully i will get a breather before having to think about it again. My health has been really bad the last couple of weeks, which may be partly down to the stress of it all, as well as all the time spent concentrating and preparing documents, reading guides on how to appeal etc. I am also not sure if i am fighting off a virus… my stomach has been really upset, my body clock has been misbehaving and i have been sleeping badly but having to be in bed a lot as feeling so rubbish, my heart has been beating sometimes fast and sometimes having little spasms (not painful, just odd), walking has become so hard i am struggling to leave the house and walk a few yards during the “high” (ha ha) point of the day… whatever the reason i have been feeling pretty awful and struggling to stay positive… things could be worse of course, and it is not all doom and gloom, i just hope to start perking up soon.

Well, bad news is that the benefits service who could have helped me have refused to take my case on for appeal… so if i want to carry on to appeal i have to go it alone… I am not sure what they would have done for me, but they would have come with me and helped me prepare for it, and possibly “represented” me in some way. Anyway going alone (with my partner) is a bit daunting. The reason they are not taking me on is that I do not have good medical support/evidence, and as my case stands it does not look very strong, as without medical backup they (DWP) have every reason not to believe me it seems. The service have limited resources so can’t take on someone in this situation. I have an appointment with my specialist in october so i am hoping that he will be very supportive so that i have a basis on which to continue to appeal (and to challenge what has already been said about me), but i am having real second thoughts about continuing. It is stressing me out! I know that if i don’t i will always be thinking, “what if i had carried on…” but i am left doubting how strong a case i have and my chances of success after this latest development, and it is a lot to put myself through for nothing. I suppose i will just carry on until i have seen the specialist and give up if he is not overly enthusiastic/supportive/articulate but i am so sick of all this now. I could rant on and on about it but i really can’t be bothered to waste my breath today!

ME/CFS Awareness

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